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aware mindfulness

Are You Ready to Open Up to Trust, Happiness & Joy?

I've had my share of profound unhappiness. When it hits, I'm always struck by its enormity and completeness, like a hurricane that moves in and devastates until there is nothing left of what was touched.
 
For the record, I'm not talking about depression. I'm talking about reliving low points, like family dysfunction, poisonous relationships, infertility, miscarriages and cancer, in the tar pit of your soul. I'm talking about going about your business and WHACK! Something comes up and, like an elephant, you remember and relive your emotions like it's happening to you all over again. 
 
I don't remember exactly where I was or what I was doing when a thought recently struck me out of the blue. It moved me so profoundly that I stopped whatever it was I was doing and wrote it down:
 
"I just had a deep understanding of what happiness is - being joyfully, unabashedly in the moment and trusting that that is exactly where you belong ... this moment (and ME) is enough, in fact, it is all."
 
Mindfulness is conscious awareness of what you are feeling and experiencing in the present moment. But there is more. To get to joy it's not enough to just be aware of the present. To get to joy you have to trust that the present moment is exactly where you belong. 
 
Joy comes from the knowing, the trust, the deep understanding that you are, right now, enough. With that trust and the joy it brings, you can let down your defenses and stop seeking validation. You can lean into happiness, which is the bubbling up of little pieces of joy in the moment. 
 
As adults with histories, we can't know happiness unless we know its opposite and find it in our hearts to trust despite that knowledge. It takes vulnerability and reliance on forces outside of our control, but, mostly, it takes a commitment to creating live out loud joy for ourselves.
 
In the five years since my diagnosis, I've experimented more and more with trust (because it finally took cancer to convince me of how little control I really had over life.) I've become more optimistic, more Zen and more patient. Who knew that trading the "safety" of mistrust, for the vulnerability of trust would lead to joy. 
 
The Dalai Lama said "the purpose of our lives is to be happy."  Have you found yourself actively seeking out happiness and joy since your cancer diagnosis? Are you able to trust that you are exactly where you belong at the present moment?
 
Survival > Existence,
 
 
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Taking the Present Moment to Rest & Refresh

I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am. Sylvia Plath 

I'm still a Girl Scout in that I always have a project (or two or three or ten) going. Add in to-do lists (actual and mental) and it can get exhausting.

This year, my big project was birthing my books, You Can Thrive After Treatment and How to Build an Amazing Life After Treatment. Like any first-time Mom, I jumped in with no idea what I was doing. Self-publish eBooks and paperbacks on Amazon? Sure, why not? I figured I would figure it out and approached gingerly. I eventually made it happen, but it sure took a lot of time.   

Just yesterday, a day after the paperbacks launched and the six month process was finally complete, a thought quietly struck me.

Stop. Look at what you've accomplished. Don't just push on to something else. Take a moment to appreciate. And, you dumb bunny, take a moment to rest.

Yes, I really do talk to myself in the third person. And, yes, I really do insult myself when I feel the need.

The voice in my head forced me to remember the lesson of last week's sudden, untimely death“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”  Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Right now, instead of ramping up for the next project, I need to rest. Especially now, during the holiday season, subtracting makes much more sense than mindlessly adding to my list of things I convince myself have to be done. 

Which brings me to my "problem." My husband keeps asking me what I want for Christmas and I cannot give him an answer. What I want to say is completely reminiscent of what my mother used to say when the same question was asked of her: "Peace and quiet." 

Yes, Mom, I hear your voice in my head and I so get it now. I too want peace and quiet of mind. I want the disease of busy, to which I have lost a few friends, to cease and desist. I want to be still and ignore worrisome thoughts like so many clouds floating across the sky.  

In our "Just do it" society, I want to just be.

As I watch my breath I want to know with each "I am" beat of my heart that I am enough, with no need for the "validation" that comes from busyness.  

Really, all I want is a little break. I fully expect to lean back in come January, when I'm refreshed and ready to push forward on new challenges.

But January is later; now is now. 

"Stop" the thought said; appreciate the now. 

I am learning to listen.

Survival > Existence,


5 Steps to a Blissfully Unproductive Weekend

Happy Independence Day to all of my American readers. Today is our national holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It's a day of family picnics, parades, fireworks, baseball and concerts. It's a day to celebrate freedom.

And what better way to celebrate freedom than with a four-day weekend! If you're lucky to have the next few days off, here's five steps to a blissfully unproductive weekend:

1. Change Your Mindset, If Only For the Weekend: If you have a workaholic, productivity proves validity mindset like me, you don't relax easily. Why not try changing your mindset for just a weekend? Everyone needs time to relax and recharge and anyone who thinks they are productive 24/7 is just kidding themselves anyway. So go ahead, throw relentless productivity to the wind and resolve to be blissfully unproductive this weekend. You can always go back to being a crazed workaholic on Monday.

2. Unplug From Your Electronics: Put the stresses and obligations of the work week on hold by separating yourself from your cell phone, tablet or laptop. Deliberately unplugging makes a statement to yourself and others, "I choose to relax and be blissfully unproductive for a few days."  

Go one step further and seek out silence. As Deepak Chopra said, "Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence."

3. Stay in the Moment:  As hard as it is to unplug from your electronics, it's even harder to unplug from your monkey mind. You know what monkey mind is - the incessant chatter of worry, "should's," "what if's," and past/future focus. When the chatter starts building, take a breath and stop. In that moment of awareness, you create a gap that allows you to recognize the noise for what it is, before it takes you away with it. Practicing "catch and release" of your monkey mind thoughts, keeps you present in the here and now and focuses your mind on one thing at a time.   

4. Have Fun:  Fun is not a luxury. Let me repeat: Fun is not a luxury. In fact, fun is necessary to a healthy life. Spontaneous fun is great and happens more often when you're in the moment. But planning for fun is as important as planning your meals. This is a great weekend to go to a concert, parade, family picnic or watch fireworks. It's also a great weekend to have sex, read a book, lie in a hammock, or make banana bread. Fun doesn't have to be big and noisy. Fun is whatever feeds your soul and makes you feel more alive. Go have fun.

5. Reconnect With Loved Ones: Sometimes we're so overwhelmed with obligations, schedules, responsibilities and appointments that we forget to really be with the people we love. If you turn off the TV, phone and laptop; stay in the moment and go looking for fun, guess where you'll end up? Reconnecting with friends and family! That's the message of this adorable video. Enjoy!

 

May you have a wonderful, blissfully unproductive weekend! 

Survival > Existence,

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Stopping to Recognize Live Out Loud Joy As You're Living It

While our children were in grammar school, I waited with them for the bus every morning on a corner directly in front of our house. 

That corner was not their original bus stop. As the school year approached for our brand new kindergarten student, a post card arrived in the mail assigning her to a bus stop a few blocks from our house. After the first few weeks of September, I realized the bus had to pass "our corner" to get to her stop, where she was the only pick-up. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I asked that her stop be moved to the corner closer to our house. Given her young age and the fact that we weren't adding a stop or changing the route, my request was granted.

For nine years, our children were the only pick-ups at that corner.

As I stood waiting for the bus with them, we worked through the sweet sadness of letting go, if only for a few hours a day. We collected acorns and pebbles from the ground to put in my daughter's pocket as reminders throughout the day that I was always with her. As the years went by, she didn't need the acorns as much, but last August when she went off to college she took a small token of mine that fit discreetly in her backpack for the very same reason. 

Speaking of college, we talked about it at the bus stop on one of her first days of school. (The year escapes me now.) After a long summer together, she was especially upset about going off to school and leaving me. It struck me then that this was the first of many such separations. I took a risk and told her that one day I would be sending her off to college but, just like today, she would be able to handle it and I would always be there for her no matter how long or far our separation. It was both poignant and reassuring to remember that conversation when we left her on campus the first day of freshman year.  

My son and I collected tiny pine cones, which still fill a bowl in my front hall. We talked and laughed and made jokes. I kissed him goodbye and held his hand for as long as he would let me. Finally when he entered the fifth grade, he lobbied hard to stand alone on the bus stop. I didn't want to give up our time and was nervous he'd bounce and play right off the sidewalk and into the path of the bus if I wasn't there, but I finally let him go. For the rest of that year, I watched over him from my kitchen window until the bus safely whisked him away.

Why am I telling you this now? 

Every day, at approximately 8:13 a.m., I hear that same bus round the corner and I remember those moments with my children. I said it before and I'll say it again, it's the little things that give us joy. For just a few minutes we got to stop the madness of school mornings to notice the little things, like rocks and acorns and pine cones. In the process, we were sharing joy and learning to trust that we could let go and and come back together again.

When I look back now, did I stop to recognize the joy of those moments in the moment?  Did I know then how much I would treasure them now? Was I aware that living life out loud was often at its best with very little noise and fanfare?

I'm sure there were mornings I was in a hurry or not in the greatest of moods. That's why I was inspired to write this post by a video I discovered on Gretchen Rubin's website, The Happiness Project. You can watch the video, The Days are Long But the Years Are Short, here. This is one of my favorite websites and I'm happy to share it with you if you haven't yet discovered it.

If the video resonates with you too, please let me know in the comments how it inspires you to stop and find joy in the little things.

Survival > Existence,

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Image credit: samaro / 123RF Stock Photo

 


Double Parked School Buses, Acceptance & Me

"I'm not wise, but the beginning of wisdom is there; it's like relaxing into - and an acceptance of - things." Tina Turner 
 
My son texted me yesterday afternoon to ask if I might be driving by his school.

"No, why?" 

"Darn," he answered. He forgot something he needed for his track meet. I was in the middle of work and not happy about the interruption, but that's what mothers are for, right?

"Thank you sooooo much," he said.

I got in the car, drove through traffic and parked in a visitor's spot in front of the school. I ran in, dropped off the brown paper bag with his name on it and walked back outside.

OMG.

The two or three buses which were parked in the driveway when I first arrived were now joined by at least ten others - double parked, huge, yellow, in-my-way buses. I was blocked in with no way out.

"What time is school out?" I texted him, knowing the answer but hoping inanely that I was wrong. 

"2:27"

It was 2:00 p.m.

My first reaction was not pretty: "Best laid plans thwarted, once again! Why can't I control my schedule - my life? Why does this keep happening??"

"Okay, don't overreact. Yes, it's frustrating and annoying, but it's not the end of the world. Maybe I can meditate and relax."

Or maybe not. 

And that's the way it went for 35 minutes. Frustrated about not being able to leave and do what I needed to do, then calm and accepting, back to annoyed, back to accepting.

Since my cancer experience, I've started practicing mindfulness, awareness and acceptance. But, they don't call it a practice for nothing and I still can't conjure up serenity at the drop of a hat. While sitting in my car wrestling with my frustrations I did notice I was observing my emotions. Being able to step back from my agitation left me secure in the fact that it would pass.

Awareness and acceptance cannot exist without patience, especially with yourself. Even the little, daily frustrations of life can have big effects on my psyche. But, I handled yesterday's obstacles as best I could and hope that practicing acceptance will continue to help me deal with double parked school buses and the even larger issues of life.

Survival > Existence, 

 
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10 Little Things to Do With Mindful Awareness

The more I practice mindful awareness, the more I learn what it is and what it isn't. What it isn't is hours spent in the lotus position, eyes closed, blissfully deep in meditation.

What it is is beautifully summed up by my husband, "It's the little things."

I wear and don't wear glasses. What I mean is that I have them off as often as I have them on. When they're not perched on my nose, I usually have no idea where they are. That's because I mindlessly put them down and, when I want to perch them on my nose again, have no memory of where I put them.

Mindfulness is the opposite of "mind fullness." It's the ability to focus on exactly what is happening at the moment - even something so little as taking off my glasses. Although multi-tasking seems productive in theory, it has repercussions. Like losing your glasses again and again and again. Lose them often enough and it's a short leap from losing your glasses to losing your mind.

I have an idea. Why don't you join me this week in trying to be more mindfully aware of the little things. I'd love it if you let me know either here in the comments or over at my Facebook page how you are doing. To get us started, here are some "little" things to be more mindfully aware:

1. Glasses - We all know it's not about the glasses. It's about juggling 20 things at a time. By slowing down and concentrating on one activity  we instill calmness and focus. When I let myself single task, I actually get more done with less downtime, because I don't do silly things like constantly losing my glasses.

2.  Yoga and Exercise - I hit the yoga mat after running out of the house, driving through traffic and running up to class. Sometimes (okay, most times) it's not easy to leave the fury of the day behind and settle into yoga. But when I do, even for a few minutes, I am richly rewarded. That's why I keep going back.

3.  Cooking - At the end of a busy day, cooking can be a chore, but when you "throw it on the table," you're missing an opportunity for mindfulness. Slow down and really look at your ingredients. Focus on the smell, taste and feel of the food in your hands. Bringing together even a simple dish is a work of creation. Mindfully enjoy it and cooking becomes a relaxing focal point to the day.

4.  Eating - Once you've mindfully created dinner, why not mindfully eat it? The secret to filling your life with simple pleasures (and food has to be right up there) is to actually pay attention to them. Eat slowly and really taste your food. Your body deserves to be fed and your consciousness deserves to savor it. 

5.  Conversation - Whether it's dinnertime with the family or throughout the day, good conversation requires mindfulness. Do you know that flow that comes when you're talking with a friend and time flies by? That's mindfulness and it's amazing. Resolve to get more of it by mindfully focusing on whoever you're talking to at the moment.

6.  Simple Tasks - When I was a young lawyer, I lived in an apartment by myself for a few years. At the end of my very long, crazy days, I'd find myself washing the dishes and really enjoying it. It was quiet, the soap and warm water relaxed me and I was able to start and finish a project. (If you've ever had a job where nothing ever seems to resolve or be finished, you know what I mean.)  I didn't know what mindfulness was at the time, but that's what I was experiencing and it was very satisfying. 

7.  Relaxation - It's probably no secret by now that I'm a multi-tasking workaholic. That's why relaxing doesn't come easily to me, but I know I need to refresh and rejuvenate more often. Being mindfully connected to the moment of relaxation (and not running unending to-do lists through my head) is my only hope. I'm working on it.

8.  Sex - See #7 and "Why Mindfulness is Vital to Sexual Health."

9.  Tea meditation - It's funny how a little thing like tea can teach so much about mindfulness.  

10. Silence -  How can we be mindfully aware of any one thing with so many distractions constantly swirling around us? With all of our 24/7 gadgetry, we've forgotten that moments of silence are necessities. Resolve to turn off the unnecessary noise in your day and seek out silence (or as close to silence as you can get.) Making moments of silence a priority makes mindfulness a possibility.

Remember, I want to hear from you! Let me know here and on Facebook what you're doing to bring little moments of mindfulness into your day!

Survival > Existence,

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